This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his influential book The Origin of Species, in which he presented his theory of evolution by natural selection. Because Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, so often spoke about Darwin and his theory, and because Darwin and his theory are so representative of the substance and spirit of modern science, some words about Srila Prabhupada’s attitudes toward modern science are now appropriate.

Srila Prabhupada gave scientists credit for their proven accomplishments. But he would not give them credit for assertions they could not practically demonstrate. For example, many scientists assert that life arose on earth by chemical combination. In reply, Srila Prabhupada argued that no one has observed life arising spontaneously from chemical combination in nature. Nor have scientists produced life by combining chemicals in their laboratories.

Turning to the origin of species, Srila Prabhupada rejected Darwin’s proposal that one species transforms into another. There is evolution, Srila Prabhupada said, but it is the evolution of the soul through various forms of life, all created in the beginning by God, Krishna.

According to materialistic science, consciousness is produced by chemical interactions in the brain. Srila Prabhupada often challenged this idea. The atma, the soul, he proposed, is the source of consciousness.

In discussing the origin of the universe, most materialistic scientists favor some version of the “big bang” theory. Srila Prabhupada questioned how such an unguided process could produce all the signs of order and design we observe in the universe. He upheld the Vedic account of creation, in which creation unfolds under the supervision of the Supreme Lord and subordinate demigods like Brahma.

The Vedic universe differs structurally from the universe depicted by modern science. Many of the structural features of the Vedic universe aren’t visible to modern scientific investigators. But Srila Prabhupada suggested that there may be much beyond the range of ordinary sense perception.

So beyond pointing out the shortcomings of specific scientific theories about the origin of life and the universe, Srila Prabhupada also offered a critique of the entire scientific method. The best way to acquire knowledge, Srila Prabhupada said, is to accept it from a person beyond the limitations of the empirical method. That person is the Supreme Lord, who gives us perfect knowledge in His words, recorded in the Vedic literature.

Ultimately, Prabhupada opposed many conclusions of materialistic scientists because those conclusions discourage people from taking up the spiritual activities that can deliver them from the cycle of birth and death. Misguided by scientific teachings that deny or downplay the existence of God and the soul, people engage in material activities that keep them in ignorance of their true spiritual identity and keep them from returning back to Godhead, back to their original spiritual home.

Drutakarma Dasa, Associate Editor